Every year, I have a goal of reading more non-fiction books and just about every year, I fail or succeed less than I think I should. Fiction is my weakness. When I’m tired at the end of the day, I just want to disappear into a story or a different world. I can rarely raise the mental energy to pick up anything too close to reality. But recently, I think I’ve hit on a solution. Audiobooks.
Yeah, duh. Why didn’t I think of that before? I actually did, but the library’s audiobook app was awful and listening was a chore, but a recent update made it much, much better and I’ve found non-fiction audio often replacing podcasts on my walks with Dash or in the car.
Not sure if it will stick, but here are 3 recent non-fiction audiobooks that I enjoyed.
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
Larson’s Devil in the White City is one of my most frequent recommendations to people looking for an addictive read. The fact that it happens to be a true story is just a bonus. Larson is one of the more popular authors and maybe responsible for the genre of narrative non-fiction. Non-fiction that is told more in the style of fiction.
Dead Wake, the story of the last crossing of the British liner and America’s entrance into WWI, isn’t as good as Devil in the White City. Maybe it’s the subject matter or the story itself. The writing was solid, but there were a lot of names, places, dates and background to understand the lead-up and causes of the incident that might have robbed the plot of some of its momentum. Some of the early scene setting and geo-politics leading up to the Lusitania’s voyage does feel a bit rushed.
Once the major players have been covered, the table set, so to speak, and the big liner is underway, the story definitely perks up as the ship and the German sub maneuver themselves in what almost feels like fate into a collision course that will cost many lives. The chapters that covers the actual sinking, the aftermath, and the human cost is almost unbearable.
This might not have risen to the level of Devil in the White City, but it does tell an important story and tells it well.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so surprised that the writing was so strong in this book given the man’s song writing skills. Silly, right? I’m not really a big Bruce fan before the book, I knew the hits, respected the ability, but after reading this? I have a new found respect for his work ethic, talent, and writing.
The first half of the book felt a little stronger or more interesting to me. The man has remarkable recall, and no small amount of bravery, for his troubled, strange and twisted early childhood. To make it out of that with his sanity is no small feat in itself.
The parts of biographies that interest me most are always the formative chapters. The times in the subject’s lives where they are flailing around, trying to figure things out and then handling that first taste of success. This is where the book really took off for me. The chapters where he finally picks up a guitar and starts on the road to becoming a rock star were riveting and I could have read more about how he went about writing some of those early songs. He does a good job detailing why he felt he needed to write them.
I’ll admit, other than the chapter focusing on The Rising and a few bits on learning to become a better father, the latter chapters and latter albums ran together a bit for me. The closing chapters on the death of Clarence and why he is still performing did close the book in a strong fashion.
Bruce super-fan or just casual listener, this is a very well written book, not just about life as an artist and mega-star, but also of growing up in NJ and struggling to master your talents, busting your ass and getting your voice heard.
Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
I think the conceit and brevity of this book, it’s told over the space of 24-hours on the line at an upscale NY restaurant, give this book a focus and save it from feeling like the glut of other kitchen/chef memoirs that have popped up in the last decade like Kitchen Confidential, Marcus Samuelsson and Michael Ruhlan’s books.
Gibney mines his life as a sous chef to create an amalgamation of a NY restaurant and walks the reader through Friday night service to Saturday brunch. It’s a fly on the wall perspective that lets him cover all the different stations and jobs in the kitchen with various personalities mixed in from the chef to the prep cooks.
As I’ve read other books, I’m not sure I totally learned anything new, but I enjoyed seeing it all in the context of setting up, executing and them cleaning up a single service. It’s a quick read that’s worth the time if you’re a bit of a foodie. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive memoir about the restaurant industry or a chef, you might look elsewhere.
Up next on the non-fiction TBR pile:
The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Tiger by Jeff Benedict
A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
Thanks, Obama by David Litt